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Witch brewing up a storm

Introduction

The world is full of no shortage of remarkable people. For good or ill, God has blessed His children with gifts natural, preternatural and supernatural. The Sisters make it their business to know who amongst their fellow men and women have received uncanny gifts, or else involved themselves in the mysterious workings of the shadow world.

Walid al-Ad

The man known to the Red Sisters as Walid al-Ad has many names. He is Walid al-Iram and Walid al-Hatif, Walid ibn-Jinni and Walid bin-Shaitan, Walid the Unspeakable and Walid of the Knife, the Beast of Al-Diwaniyah and the Red Dervish. Whatever he is called, Walid is one of the cruelest and most dangerous men to walk the Earth in these days. He is a twisted prophet of a nameless faith, and a sorcerer and alchemist of frightening skill. It is said that Walid is 105 years old (or, some whisper in the dark before praying that Allah will stop up al-Ad's ears from hearing them speak it, three thousand years old) and that he has outlived many enemies. Today, he is believed to dwell somewhere in the most desolate deserts of Arabia, either west of Ramadi near Baghdad or among the unholy ruins of Iram of the Pillars.

The story of Walid is really a collection of whispered anecdotes and the feverish ramblings of madmen, and little can be said for certain. What is known is that Walid was once an Islamic holy man and a Sufi mystic. But in his travels into the deep desert, he came across the ruins of Iram and was ensnared by the whispers of the ghosts. They gave unto him haqiqa, a vision of the ultimate truth - but not at all the haqiqa accepted by Islamic teaching. Instead, it was a twisted truth passed down from the ages before Mohammed, before Jesus, and before Abraham. Whatever the ghosts of Iram said to Walid, it broke his mind and he emerged from the desert a changed man (his companions, for better or worse, never left the ruins and are believed to have been devoured by the hungry ghosts, or by Walid himself).

Walid drew followers to himself from the wretched and reckless, and his cult soon drew the attention of the Ottoman government. In 1819, Walid was personally denounced as a heretic by the Caliph and Sultan Mahmud II, who attended the bloody execution of Walid's followers over the next three years. Walid has since eluded Turkish soldiers, Arabic tribesmen and the dreaded Hashshashin (an ancient sect of Ismaili holy warriors, generally believed to have been crushed centuries ago but known and feared in the shadows of Arabia today). The Ruwallah Bedouin of northern Arabia say that Walid has emerged again, and is up to his hideous work again. They say he is seeking the ritual sacrifice of 72 virgins, a blasphemous perversion of one Islamic conception of the afterlife, in order to awaken something ancient and unholy that sleeps beneath Iram.

Doña Charlotte Rémond Aznar y Villareal

Doña Charlotte has been an ally of the S.I.F. for almost twenty-five years, and is one of their most loyal lay supporters. Born in the small town of Nesmy in the conservative Vendée region of western France, Charlotte comes from an old noble family that managed to survive the Revolution with its land and fortune mostly intact. The Rémonds prospered after the Bourbon Restoration of 1814, and young Charlotte was one of France's most sought-after debutantes. As it turned out, it was a Mexican aristocrat who would win the prize. Tomás Aznar y Villareal came from an old criollo family that dominated the town of Santa Lucía in the northern state of Tamaulipas, and proposed to Charlotte not long after Maximilian I took the imperial throne of Mexico. Maximilian's wife was a French-speaking Belgian princess named Charlotte. Coincidentally enough Don Tomás' new bride was also a Francophone named Charlotte. Despite this attempt at currying favor, Don Tomás remained isolated from the court, as did his new wife.

The marital bliss didn't last long. Tomás died not long after the marriage under circumstances that remain unclear; few Santa Lucíanos missed the cruel, uncultured jefe. While Doña now, Charlotte didn't remain in Santa Lucía. Instead, she left the village and then Mexico itself (probably for the best, given the violent downfall of the French-supported Empire a year later). She took to travelling the world with a few companions, delving into occult mysteries and often crossing paths with the Red Sisters. At some point, Doña Charlotte and her clique of supernatural detectives came into possession of the Persian Sibylline dagger, and have reportedly used it three times against various threats.

The Doña now resides in the Hôtel de Mercure, a grand town house in the 6th Arrondissement of Paris, and is acknowledged as one of the City of Light's occult experts, especially when it comes to the folklore of Mexico and its pre-Columbian inhabitants. Her private collection includes several Aztec artifacts of curious construction and sinister purpose, safely locked up out of harm's way. From time to time, Doña Charlotte consults with the Red Sisters as news of the occult reaches her through her extensive social connections (which stretch across the entire Continent and on to Britain, America, Algeria and even Indochina); likewise, the Red Sisters sometimes come to her for help on some matter or another, especially those concerning Mexico. Doña Charlotte's god-daughter, a Mestizo folk healer named Evangelina Reyes y Escalante, does likewise from her home in Monterrey, Mexico.

Father Étienne Boutry, S.J.

Fr. Boutry is a famous Jesuit missionary and anthropologist. In his youth, he traveled the northern Sahara, learning the ways of the Tuareg tribes south of the Atlas Mountains. After being ordained, Fr. Boutry returned to Algiers and somehow persuaded the Pasha-Dey, Baba Ali Il Pasha, to allow him to travel south into the desert along with a small band of companions (both priests and laity). After departing from the city of Ghardaïa in the spring of 1760, Fr. Boutry and his companions were never seen again. For all intents and purposes, the desert swallowed them up.

No one knows exactly where or what happened. Now, some rumor or report comes out of West Africa or the Maghreb, that some white man with miraculous powers or some such has been seen along the old salt route that led to Timbuktu or some such.

The locus of the rumors is Fort St-Hubert, a French outpost built around an oasis in southern Algeria, roughly halfway between Algiers and Timbuktu. The fort itself is exceedingly humble and its walls would barely serve to fend off Tuareg raiding parties; any serious attack would overwhelm the small garrison of spahis (native Algerian cavalry). Adjacent to the fort, but outside its walls, is a mission church, run by the Missionaries of Africa, that seeks to evangelize the nearby Tuareg people (so far to little success).

Sir Charles Bromley

Sir Charles Bromley was a famous English antiquarian of the early Victorian era. He was one of the first white men to venture into the deepest jungles of Southeast Asia, and his famous 1841 expedition to the Annamite Range made him a household name and earned him a knighthood. Two years later, he left Portsmouth bound for the South Seas, specifically the mysterious Île de Pentecôte. After departing from Sydney in the fall of 1843, Bromley and his ship vanished for more than three years. On April 30, 1847, a pair of Tahitian fishermen found a disheveled, incoherent Sir Charles wandering the beaches of a small island near Mururoa. He was turned over to the British resident in Papeete. Sir Charles was suffering from a high fever and it was months before he returned to health. During that time, his ramblings were so disturbing that three nurses were successively hired and left in a state of great mental distress.

Upon recovering, Sir Charles adamantly refused to disclose the fate of the rest of the expedition, or where he had been for so long. Instead, he returned to England and dropped out of sight. It was rumored he was the host of strange foreign gentlemen and seen in certain peculiar shops in dark corners of London. His wife fell ill and died suddenly, and Bromley shocked society by producing and marrying a girl of Polynesian origin. And then, on April 13, 1850, a fire swept the grounds of the Bromley estate in Suffolk. Sir Charles, his new wife, and all the servants were slain. The West Suffolk constabulary duly investigated, but their findings were sealed away and the only explanation given was 'lightning' (on an otherwise clear night in the area). Rumors soon spread, passed along by former servants, rumors of strange rituals and odd meetings at all hours of the night.

Sir Charles was buried in an elaborate tomb on the family grounds, one built according to his exacting and bizarre specifications. No locals attended the ceremony, which was officiated over by a foreigner. It was soon thereafter that local girls began to go missing, one a month on the night of the full moon. Strange stories spread throughout that part of Suffolk, and hysteria began to take hold. Inevitably, Sir Charles was implicated, despite his demise, and his mausoleum was broken into by a mob led by the local vicar. The tomb was smashed open, and found to be empty except for a swarm of strange vipers. These were burnt, as was the entire complex, and the rubble buried under a layer of earth. After this, the disappearances ended, although the missing girls were never found.

The matter would have ended there, except for the fact that Sir Charles was seen in London around New Year's, and in Bristol four months later. He vanished for nearly ten years, but since then has been spotted at least once a year, often around the time of some strange or grisly occurrence. The Sisters, among others, have been seeking him since his first death, but to no avail. It is almost certain he is a warlock and worshipers of some dark Pacific god. Sir Charles, or whatever walks the Earth that was once Sir Charles, doesn't seem to have any grand purpose behind his bloodshed, but it may be too subtle, or too insane, to discern. That makes the Sisters very nervous.

Cain

The story of Cain is, of course, well-known to every educated person. His activities after being cast out into the East are somewhat vague. It is known he wandered for a time, then settled in Nod, fathered a child, Enoch, and founded a city which he named after the boy. Beyond that, Scripture is silent, although the Tradition of the Church does offer some further insight. Concerning Cain's curse, the Church teaches that the punishment given to Cain was not to wander forever (clearly not, since he founded Enoch) but instead a further antagonism between Cain and the giving earth. While Adam and Eve found themselves force to work hard to survive, the punishment was even more severe for Cain, and his harvests would be scant; this rejection by the earth was punishment for Cain's pouring the lifeblood of Abel into the soil, a gross abuse of the integrity of creation.

Some, and the Sisters are among them, speculate that Cain's antagonism with nature goes beyond poor harvests and that the children of Cain were actively rejected by nature in many ways (a foreshadowing of the ten plagues of Egypt, amongst other Biblical incidents). A very small minority of scholars hold that Cain was so far from grace that after his death, the earth vomited up his body instead of letting it rest. This would make Cain the first example of the undead, and does tie into many medieval legends about Cain spawning broods of monsters (Grendel and his mother from Beowulf being notable literary examples). There are even a few who believe Cain is still alive, or at least undead, down to this very day.

Philippum Novocastrium, an English monk and chronicler of the 12th century, wrote in his Annales Mirabilis:

My good cousin Godfrey, lately of Beyrout [Beirut], related onto me a curious tale. While the castle at the border with Damascus was being built, a red-headed traveler in the garb of the Saracen came into their camp by night. He was of prodigious height and curious mien, and unsettling. He stayed but a night in their camp before being cast out, but in that time, said many strange things.

Sadly, the Novocastrian does not elaborate on what these "strange things" were - occult secrets, perhaps. More recently, Prescott Murphy, a famed English Biblical scholar and antiquarian of the 18th century, passed through the Ottoman province of Basra and heard a puzzling account. The Shi'ite tribesmen of the province had recently been disturbed by a cult, one said to have been established by a "prodigiously tall red-head magician" who was stirring up the djinn of the deserts. In the end, the cult was broken up by a gathering of mullahs and the magician vanished into the night in the face of their wrath. This story is taken by many as evidence that Cain still walks the earth. By all accounts, he is a tall man, a red-head, and speaks softly when he imparts his unsettling lore.

Cartaphilus

While of far less antique origin than Cain, the tragic wanderer Cartaphilus is far better attested in the last millennia. As the tale goes, the doorkeeper at the mansion of Pontius Pilate, one Cartaphilus, saw Jesus as He was led along the Via Dolorosa to be crucified. The Roman wretch struck Jesus and cried out "Go Jesus, go faster, why dost thou linger?" To which Jesus replied "I go, but thou shalt wait till I come." And thus Cartaphilus was cursed with immortality to wait the coming of Christ in glory. Penitent now, Cartaphilus (who is sometimes called Joseph after his experience) leads a quiet, saintly life; when he reaches the age of one hundred years, God miraculously restores him to the age of thirty.

The story can be traced back to the Flores Historiarum of Roger of Wendover and, not much later, to the Flemish Bishop Philippe Mousket of Tournai. Both base their account on the story of an Armenian bishop traveling in western Europe, one who had personally known Cartaphilus (or Joseph). More recently, several Armenian priests, both Catholic and members of the Orthodox church, the oldest in the world, have attested to encounters with Cartaphilus. There are also accounts by Georgians and two Turks testifying to Cartaphilus dwelling somewhere in the hills of Lesser Armenia (those Armenian districts west of the upper Euphrates). He is said to live the life of a hermit, and also to possess great insight into the art of magic.

It is said by some that every year, Cartaphilus emerges from his cave to celebrate the Easter holiday in a certain village (which one varies by the telling, if it is named at all) and impart some of his well-earned wisdom to worthy individuals. Others say that Cartaphilus knows the hidden meaning of the movement of the stars in heaven and has devised the exact date of the birth of the anti-Christ and Christ's return, among other wondrous and fearful events. Many nefarious individuals, including at least one known member of the Shadows, have sought out Cartaphilus; none has ever succeeded.

Anna Darvulia

Elizabeth Báthory is well-known in the annals of madness. Less well-known is the wretched Anna Darvulia, who is said to have initiated the worst phase of the Bloody Lady's diabolic atrocities. Although her origins are murky, Darvulia is connected to several contemporary covens. It is believed she learned her dark arts in the Scholomance, that terrifying occult academy.

Her early activities are unrecorded and the subject of much speculation. Darvulia is known to have entered Báthory's orbit around 1604, around the time the countess' obscenities reached their frantic second phase, wherein even girls of noble birth were abducted and tormented. Darvulia vanished shortly before Báthory was finally arrested in 1610. It is unclear to history if she died or simply disappeared.

The Red Sisters know better. The Inquisition was on Báthory's trail, and also Darvulia's. Báthory was tried and condemned to life confinement in a single room, but Darvulia escaped. Her activities since then have been shadowy, but she was seen in Pressburg as recently as 1809 where she was involved in some shadowy scheme aimed against the Austrian authorities. Darvulia escaped a step ahead of the S.I.F., who had been pursuing her for half a decade all across the Continent, and has been elusive ever since. It is rumored she is still somewhere in Eastern Europe, perhaps in the neighborhood of the Scholomance.

Darvulia's talent with witchcraft is impressive, and terrifying; among her many dark gifts is longevity - she would be over three centuries old now, if she hasn't met her long-overdue judgment already. The S.I.F.'s Eastern European priories still seek her, although the hunt has lost much of its urgency in recent years.

Khalil Ahmed Hanouf

Muslims have a mystic tradition scarcely less old and certainly as widespread as that of the Church. The venerable Khalil Ahmed Hanouf is a case in point.

While he resides in Casablanca, Hanouf was born in Damascus to a merchant clan. He entered the Ottoman Army at the age of seventeen, but swiftly abandoned his martial career after a mysterious encounter in the Empty Quarter of Arabia. Hanouf is said to have spent a year in the company of the pious djinn before returning to the city of Abha near the Red Sea. He spent a year in Abha, and another in Damascus, until abruptly relocating to the far western city of Casablanca. The reason behind this exodus has never been revealed, which of course only fuels speculation. Some believe he ran afoul of the Turkish authorities, others that some diabolic encounter drove him from the city - or that a vision drew him to Casablannca.

Whatever the case may be, Hanouf is nearly as much a fixture of Casablanca as the sands and streets of the port city. He has seen many sultans and potentates come and go, and out-lasted them all. Now very old, Hanouf is rarely seen in public; instead, those with problems come to his humble abode and seek his wisdom. On those rare instances when Hanouf does venture forth, prudent Casablancans withdraw behind their curtained doors and wait for the crisis to pass - as it inevitably does.

Like many followers of the Sufi path, Hanouf is on friendly terms with both the Jews and Christians of Casablanca, and rarely hesitates to impart some nugget of wisdom upon them when they seek his aid. There is no priory in Casablanca, but travelling Red Sisters have always been welcomed by Hanouf and his numerous disciples.

Duarte Junqueiro

Duarte Junqueiro is a living warning of the perils of delving too deeply into the mysteries of the hidden world. Born in 1829 to a respectable middle-class family in Braga, Portugal, Duarte was educated by Dominicans and subsequently joined the same order at the age of twenty-four. Not long afterwards, Father Duarte came across the Red Sisters while they were pursuing a warlock associated with a Lisbon-based cult. Over the next few years, Duarte plunged into the study of the preternatural and occult, gradually straying beyond the boundaries set by the S.I.F. Soon, his studies led him to blasphemous texts on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum and even a few so obscure the watchdogs in Rome were unaware of their very existence. Duarte was not content with what God had given him and became obsessed with mastering the art of magic.

The result was as predictable as it was tragic. Duarte managed to avoid being defrocked only by renouncing his vows, and then vanished into the underworld to continue his studies. Five years later, he resurfaced a completely changed man, and unleashed a reign of terror on Porto. Some dark text Duarte had uncovered, or perhaps the whispers of hidden cultists, prompted the fallen priest to carry out a string of brutal murders - he claimed three victims (the young Isabel Ponte Valente, Baronesa de Santa Rosália, and two of Duarte's former Dominican brothers).

Duarte escaped the hounds of both Church and crown, and disappeared once more. Since then, he has been seen in Lisbon, the Azores, Brazil and, most recently, in various parts of Portugal's African empire. A wanted man, Duarte rarely stays in one place longer than it takes to conduct his (nearly always unholy) business before disappearing, usually one step ahead of the authorities.

Countess Hajna Fehér Kóbor

Countess Hajna, the latest holder of a title older than the kingdom it is loyal to, is one of the most prominent aristocrats in Hungary. Hajna is a native of Szekszárd in the Hungarian half of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a devout Catholic and a quiet supporter of the S.I.F. (her aunt Katarina was a Red Sister). Hajna's involvement with the S.I.F. began with her return to the Faith, a reconversion she owes to the late visionary Bernadette Soubirious of Lourdes, France. While still a child, Hajna suffered from tuberculosis and was healed after a stay at the shrine at Lourdes. At the age of eighteen, she married Captain Aron Kóbor, the second son of a minor aristocratic family, and their only child, Gizella, was born a year later; sadly, Aron died during a hunting trip without ever seeing his daughter.

Since then, the Countess has shown herself to be a sponsor of Hungarian missionaries, especially in Africa, and also of right-wing politicians, most notably Baron Tibor Pusztai. The Budapest gossipmongers insist Hajna and Tibor (himself married and the father of three children) are having an affair. The truth, though, is that both the Baron and the Countess are supporters of the S.I.F. and their clandestine meetings are part of their work with the Red Sisters. Within the S.I.F., it is widely believed that Hajna, at least, is a supporter of the Whites. Her ties to numerous Hungarian aristocrats, the House of Habsburg, and, more distantly, the royal house of Bavaria, as well as her large social circle, would certainly make her an asset to that mysterious faction. There are even a few who suspect Gizella, by all accounts a child prodigy, is part of the White's great attempt to 'arrange' the birth of the Great Catholic Monarch.

Father Gélase Madjer, M. Afr.

Father Gélase is in many respects the Catholic mirror of Hanouf. Born in Blida in the French department of Alger, Gélase was received into the church along with the rest of his sizeable family when he was 4 years old. His family, now viewed as French collaborators by their neighbors, relocated to Alger in 1869. Gélase joined the French army soon thereafter, taking up the rifle and tricolor as a tirailleur algerien (light infantry). After four years of service, Gélase left the military (like Hanouf, he does not speak of it, although some of his former colleagues whisper about strange spirits and the ancient cults of the Berbers of the Aurès Mountains) and was accepted into the Tunis seminary run by the Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa of Algeria. Gélase was ordained in the spring of 1879 and first assigned to the cathedral of Notre-Dame d'Afrique in Algers. Father Gélase remained there for less than a year, during which time he first participated in the rite of exorcism, assisting the diocese's official exorcist.

Thereafter, Father Gélase joined his brother missionaries in the Sahara. He serves as an itinerant missionary amongst the tribes south of the Atlas Mountains, and has brought many into the Church. His specific calling, however, seems to be that of an exorcist. Since his ordination, Father Gélase has performed the rite of exorcism no less than thirty times. Five times, the exorcism was done alongside the S.I.F. (and twice as a result of their inquiries), and Father Gélase has a close relationship with the Sisters in their mutual work.

While Father Gélase's fixed address is at the missionary church of Saint Michel in El-Oued, in truth he can be found nearly anywhere in the Saharan wastes, spreading the Gospel and undertaking the spiritual warfare which is his calling. The tribesmen of the desert, even those who reject the Catholic faith, admire the man; he is equally detested by those who traffic in the darker forms of the occult.

Baron Kawamaki Shimpei

The history of the Church in Japan has been one of persecution and secrecy for most of the past two and a half centuries. After the failed Shimabara Rebellion of the 1630s, Christianity was outlawed by the Shogun and Japanese believers either went underground or abandoned the faith. Those who remained faithful in secret were referred to as Kakure Kirishitan, or "Hidden Christian." In 1873, Christianity was legalized again as part of the Meiji reforms, and many of the hidden Christians emerged. One of them was Kawamaki Shimpei, a former samurai, baron of the Empire and cabinet minister.

While the fact that Japanese noble was a Kakure Kirishitan and publically embraced Holy Mother Church is inspiring to Catholics, more pertinent to the Red Sisters' special vocation is the fact that Baron Kawamaki pursues the same task. He and his ancestors have been hunters of the Enemy for many centuries, and the tranquility of the countryside around Nagasaki is due in no small part to their efforts. Now that Christianity is legal, the Kawamaki no longer rely on the semblance of Buddhist practices they had previously used.

Family members and retainers work throughout southern Japan, battling the many strange spirits to be found and assisting local clergy in exorcisms (Japan seems to be veritably swarming with angry ghosts). As the Red Sisters have little presence in Japan, the efforts of the Kawamaki clan are greatly appreciated and admired.

In his younger days, the Baron was responsible for many victories, especially over a strange family of Okinawan cannibals. Old now, and burdened by a lame leg (not to mention his political duties) Baron Kawamaki is no longer active in the secret crusade, but he is still the éminence grise of the clan and advises and inspires the clan's younger generation. He is also on close terms with the Sisters and observes a regular correspondence with the Prioress of the distant Goa priory.

Shona MacLean

Twenty-eight year old Shona MacLean is one of the most famous daughters of Scotland. Born on Kilcairn, an island off the coast of the Kintyre peninsula in western Scotland, MacLean's reputation lies in the fact that she is the so-called Taibhsear (Scots Gaelic for "vision seer") of Argyll. Since the age of fifteen, MacLean has experienced powerful visions of things far off in both time and space. According to her, the visions began when she was visited by an angel while hanging the laundry to dry behind her family's cottage, an angel who gave her a glimpse of the souls in Purgatory. More visions followed, once a day, for the rest of the week, leading MacLean through Purgatory to the highest reaches of Heaven; after beholding the Beatific Vision, the very face of God, MacLean was struck dumb for six months. Upon recovering, the young Scot experienced many more visions of faraway places and eras; moreover, she has apparently become an example of inedia, the ability to subsist only on the Eucharist, which she receives daily from the local priest.

The Red Sisters have sometimes sought MacLean out to learn of her latest visions, which only rarely concern their own work (or even reveal affairs of any interest to those not from western Scotland), as have many psychic researchers and not a few Catholic pilgrims including the Archbishop of Glasgow. MacLean's visions are compiled by her cousin Elspet, and sometimes reprinted in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research and various Catholic publications.

While visitors tend to be fond of the shy, barely literate peasant girl, a few of the local folk will offer a different perspective. They say, when finally persuaded to discuss the issue at all, that MacLean is descended from the fair folk, those fairies of old but not-quite-forgotten legend and lore. Others wonder if the spirit that first came to her was an angel at all, or perhaps something emerging from another realm entirely.

Mpho of the Basuto

Mpho is one of the most powerful and revered witch-doctors in all Africa. He commands many spirits and is wise in the ways of the hidden world, wiser than all but a handful of Red Sisters. The enigmatic Mpho sometimes works to protect his people from threats against them, but more often for mysterious purposes of his own.

The Basuto witch-doctor was born around the year 1800 and for a time was a student of the famous witch-doctor and prophet Mohlomi. He has since retired into the wilderness, shunning most contact with even his own people, and is believed to dwell somewhere in the Roggeveld Mountains of Cape Colony. He has escaped three assassination attempts, two by Boers and one by a Basuto rival, over the years. The locals will not speak of the most recent attempt or the three days of lightning that followed, and the Cape Colony authorities have a policy of ignoring Mpho's existence as much as possible.

Aside from his magical gifts, Mpho is best known for his Three Plague Prophecy. Just before he retired into the Roggeveld Mountains. Mpho went into an ecstatic trance that lasted three days and three nights. When it ended, he spoke of three terrible plagues that would afflict the Basuto people (and all the peoples of the world) in the future. The first was the Plague of Blood, a terrible disease that would especially ravage Africa. The second was the Plague of Birds coming out of the sunrise. The third and most awful was the Plague of Beast, which would drive men mad and make them worshippers of demons.

Sister Farah Shallal, O.P.

Sister Farah is a remarkable woman in a remarkable family. She hails from an old Chaldean Catholic clan native to Telassqepa (or Tel Skuf, in Arabic) near the Ottoman city of Mosul; the Shallals have long been active in the Church and the latest generation is no exception as both of Farah's older brothers are priests and her younger sister is also a nun. Farah took her vows in 1865, not long after her nineteenth birthday, and has resided at the Convent of the Holy Cross in Mosul ever since.

To the populace of Mosul, Sister Farah is a simple nun and a gifted teacher. She instructs Chaldean youths in math, and is well-liked by the parents for it, but her true calling is as an amateur astronomer. She was one of the first Chaldeans to observe the planet Neptune (discovered only in 1846, coincidentally the year of Farah's birth) and has spent the last twenty years compiling the paths of many comets in both Arabic and Chaldean. Sister Farah carried out a long correspondence with Father Angelo Secchi, the former head of the Vatican Observatory, and still does with many other astronomers in the Near East.

Most pertinently, though, Sister Farah is whispered to possess the rare gift of discernment of spirits, or else that of visions (perhaps influenced by her study of the stars). Those sisters of the S.I.F. who know Farah do not speak of it, but rumors of her gifts are wide-spread in Mosul. The rumors are given credence by the fact that, although Mosul is a fairly remote provincial city, Farah is often visited by traveling sisters and other worthies.